Thursday 15 October 2020

Jinxed but lifted by a Jynx! 5-6th September 2020

Saturday 5th September

We were on the Oxon Downs trying to locate a big pile of horse manure where our mate Jim had found some very nice and photogenic Yellow Wagtails the day before. We found the dung heap but there were no birds on or around it at all, it was literally just a pile of s**t! Our local birding was definitely lagging of late. We walked on, ever hopeful of finding something good but in reality with our track record they'd be no chance. We couldn't even find a Corn Bunting. A message came through from Birdguides, a Wryneck had been seen near Cricklade, which my route planner app told me was only 30 or so miles away. We'd be there in just over an hour. Wrynecks are a favourite bird of most birders, they're not particularly rare but they are quite different from most other birds that we see in this country. The Wryneck is a bird that we like to see every year in the autumn when they pass through the UK on their passage migration to warmer winter climes. I've tried to find a Wryneck in Oxfordshire for years and have so far failed, although I have self-found a couple in Cornwall. The species is still a glaring omission on my home county list.

Blakehill Nature Reserve lies just a couple of miles south of Cricklade but is in Wiltshire so I wouldn't be adding Wryneck to my Oxon list today, should we be lucky enough to see it. Wrynecks can be notoriously difficult to observe and I've failed on more Wryneck twitches than I've succeeded and I've never seen one away from coastal areas. We arrived just after eleven o'clock and only an hour and a quarter after the bird was reported as seen. We had no idea where to go so just began walking along a rough tarmac track into the reserve which has been developed on an old airfield. We stopped at an information board and discovered that access was restricted to roads and a few permissible paths only. The Wryneck had apparently been seen "by the bench" but there was no indication of where that bench may be. We continued on and found a smaller carpark on a slight rise but still hadn't seen any seats or other birders. We dallied a bit here because a quick snatch of red moving through a couple of bushes caught my attention. That red flash belonged to an immature Common Redstart which showed itself quite willingly in a Hawthorn bush a few moments later. We've seen a lot of Common Redstarts over the past few weeks so after gaining a record shot we moved on.

Common Redstart

There was no choice but to follow the track towards a vast open area of grassland with isolated scrubby bushes. The track was lined on both sides by wire fences and to the right was a very promising mosaic of scrub and trees. The old airfield lay to the left and looked far less appealing, both to us and, I imagined, a Wryneck. As we rounded a bend we finally saw some other birders so we had indeed found the right spot unaided. I spoke to a couple and learned that the Wryneck hadn't been seen for about an hour, nothing unusual in that since they quite often disappear for long periods, but rather more worryingly, it had last been seen flying into the airfield area. Finding the Wryneck in a huge area of rough grass would be an impossible task especially in view of the fact that the area was off limits so we could only watch from the boundary. We sat down on the bench and chatted to the chap who had found the Wryneck earlier. He related to us how he'd come to the reserve to photograph Whinchats and had stumbled upon the Wryneck by chance when he flushed it from the track next to the bench. The Wryneck had then perched in nearby bushes for a while before flying into cover, showing briefly in another bush after that before flying onto the airfield. 

As soon as I'd gotten all the details I knew that this was very unlikely to be a successful twitch. Wrynecks are both very difficult and elusive birds but, conversely, can also very easy to see depending on which Wryneck you are looking for. They like to spend a lot of time on the ground seeking out their main foodstuff of Ants and other small Invertebrates so are impossible to see if choosing a heavily vegetated area to feed in but can be very obvious if they pick a short grassy area such a clifftop path. Wrynecks also have the welcome habit of electing to perch openly on a fence post or tree branch and staying there motionless for quite sometime before feeding again, but equally they can also choose deep cover in scrub in which to sit. All we could hope for here was that this was a Wryneck that would perch on one of the many fenceposts available.

There were birds using the fenceposts as lookouts but they were Wheatears and Whinchats. One of the Wheatears, we saw at least a couple, was working its way towards us as we sat on the bench. It posed beautifully on a succession of posts so at least gave me something to photograph while we waited for the Wryneck to appear.


Most of the other twitchers had given up and left and there was only us and a few others and they were all walking off to other areas to search for the Wryneck. I always think it's best to stay nearby where the bird was last seen so we remained on the bench. The Wheatear was very confiding and was feeding right in front of us in the tractor ruts by the gateway next to the bench. 

A gatepost was just a few metres away but that didn't deter the Wheatear since it popped up onto it allowing me to take some full frame photos before it flew over the road and into a small paddock where it continued feeding.

While watching the Wheatear I also noticed another Common redstart in the hedge a little further along the road so, leaving Mrs Caley on the bench to continue her Wryneck vigil, I wandered along to gain some closer views and photos. Even in the absence of our intended target bird this was proving to be a very profitable site and morning for some of our more common migrants.

Mrs Caley was happy to be sat enjoying the sunshine and the Wheatear that was still close by, so I went for another stroll, this time back the way we'd come originally. I checked the bushes where the Wryneck had been seen earlier but apart from a Linnet they were empty. Further up the road though I spotted a Whinchat perched on the fence, then another and another. A few minutes later I had counted six of the smart chats lined up either on the fence or feeding on the road and the grassy verge. I've seen lots of Whinchats this year too, hopefully some of our scarcer breeding bird species have profited from less disturbance generated by the Lockdown this year. I used the hedgerow as cover to get closer to the Whinchats, a couple of which were much less wary than is normal for the species.


I collected Mrs Caley and shared the Whinchat bounty with her and we found another Common Redstart. We made an effort to search some of the promising scrub out, looking for the Wryneck but only finding a Lesser Whitethroat of interest. We'd given it our best shot but it seemed the Wryneck had moved on. It wasn't seen again.

My mood was darkened later that evening when I learned that another Wryneck had been found locally, actually in Oxfordshire as well, but on a private site where access was restricted just to a couple of local birders who knew the landowner and were invited in to see it. It feels like I may never add a Wryneck to my Oxon list.

Sunday 6th September

We chose our local patch of Muswell Hill for a walk on another sunny morning. If we are ever going to find our own Wryneck in Oxfordshire then the grassy slopes of the Hill look to be as good a place as anywhere to look. Our walk was pretty uneventful though, the migrant birds that we'd found the week before had all moved on and the bushes were eerily quiet. We've found that the patch is best when the winds are light and it was probably just a bit too breezy this morning. When we reached the car and while we pondered our next move, whether to go to Farmoor or Otmoor for a couple of hours, a message via Birdguides informed us that a Wryneck that had been found at Hanwell in West London on Saturday was still present and showing well occasionally. No need for further consideration, we were in the car and setting the SatNav in a jiffy. It was only an hour to Hanwell, straight down the M40 and A40, turn right at Greenford and we'd be there. We made good time in light traffic following a route that was familiar to me since I used to travel that way often in the past when working in South-west London.

After a bit of trouble finding a suitable parking spot owing to a highly conscientious resident who had clearly become fed up with birders parking on what he deemed was his own personal driveway, even though strictly speaking it wasn't, we made our way into possibly the most insalubrious setting that we've ever gone to in search of a bird. In fact the old sports grounds and tennis courts where we joined several other birders was such a foreboding place that we would never have dared to visit for any other reason whatsoever. It was a dump, literally since the old tennis courts were covered in piles of burned out trash, which turned out to be piles of molten wheely bins. The sports pavilion itself was derelict, bombed out, covered from top to bottom in graffiti and the wild undergrowth of brambles and weeds had taken over everywhere. All windows and doors had been smashed in and I dreaded to think of the state of the inside. To a Wryneck though, such an overgrown place providing plenty of cover was absolutely ideal habitat in which to stay and feed up for a few days.

When I asked a chap what he knew of the whereabouts of the Wryneck, he told the usual story, the bird hadn't been seen for over an hour and it had last been seen flying into thick scrub by the ex-pavilion. The bird was said to favour a small Cedar tree so we concentrated our efforts on that and the lush bramble patch surrounding it. After fifteen minutes I was beginning to think that our efforts in trying to see a Jynx torquilla this autumn might actually be jinxed (see what I did there?) and that sinking feeling arose (oxymoron?) in my heart once again. A few of the other birders began hurrying over to the debris strewn tennis courts so I tracked their line of sight to see what they were all interested in. It was a Whinchat, stood on the top of one of the wheely bin mountains. At least Whinchats are following us around.

Another fifteen minutes had passed when I noticed excitement amongst a couple of birders stood at the other side of the tennis courts. They must have the Wryneck I thought so we quickly joined them staring at a mangle of torn down fencing that used to surround the tennis courts and the bramble thatch surrounding it. Underneath the bramble I discerned the slightest movement and there scuttling around on the floor was the Wryneck. Jynx, not jinx!

Where the Wryneck was seen!

The Wryneck disappeared back into the undergrowth before Mrs Caley had seen it and I hoped that it wouldn't be another hour or so before it emerged again. At least we knew it was in the bramble though so it would be worth waiting around. Most of the other birders, around fifteen or so, had joined us so there were plenty of eyes peering into the tangle of thorns, wire and metal. Luckily it was only a couple of minutes before the Wryneck, choosing one of the old fence supports, clambered into view when it shinnied up the rusty metal angle and did what Wrynecks do best, perched there and gazed around. Cameras went into overdrive and those watchers who had never seen a Wryneck before, poured forth the usual exclamations of what a fabulous and strange looking bird a Wryneck is.


Wrynecks have this very useful habit of electing a viewpoint from which to survey their surroundings and of staying there motionless except for the slow turning of their heads, and they can do so for quite some time. For the next five minutes the Wryneck barely moved as if it was posing for a magazine shoot. True the setting of twisted metal and wire hardly provided the best props for the bird, but that in itself lent a different aspect to the views and photographs and showed that wildlife really doesn't care for aesthetics just so long as there is food and refuge available.

Fed up with the attention the Wryneck shifted into reverse and returned to foraging beneath the brambles. When in amongst the thorny twigs and leaves, then you appreciate why the Wryneck has a plumage made up of patterns of stripes and chevrons and colours of browns and creams. Instantly the bird, surprisingly, I often think, a member of the Woodpecker family, blends into its surroundings and becomes very difficult to distinguish in its element.

For the next ten minutes the Wryneck had gone to ground again and we were debating whether we should leave since there was another bird that we wanted to see at a site nearby. Then it very obligingly popped up again, this time at the top of the brambles but only briefly before it flew off to our left and into a small elder tree that had grown amongst the detritus.

As the assembled crowd raced after the Wryneck it flew again into the roadside hedge and disappeared. Most people now left excitedly chatting about the bird and comparing back of the camera photos. We had to walk in the direction of the hedgerow in order to regain the car and I managed to spot the Wryneck in the branches of the hedge. Once your eye is in, finding a bird becomes much easier. I was more than happy with the views we'd had already so I restricted myself to just a couple of further shots taken from a distance. For some real close up images of a Wryneck then see my blog about an amazingly showy bird that we saw in Wales last year.

We had only been to Staines Reservoirs once before, at the end of January 2017, to see a long staying American Horned Lark. I remember it being a particularly bleak place on a freezing cold day and, even though the Lark was delightful, I couldn't wait to get away from the place. 

American Horned Lark, Staines Reservoir, 27/01/2018

The weather may have been better but the two vast concrete bowls, viewed from a causeway guarded by a mean looking metal fence designed to keep people and dogs out of the water, still appeared unwelcoming. We had come to see a small flock of four Little Gulls, a species that we'd normally see at Farmoor on their spring passage but which were denied to us this year owing to the Lockdown, during which our local reservoir was off limits. The causeway is high above the reservoirs at Staines so affords a lofty overview of the whole site. I knew that the Little Gulls, all juveniles, were frequenting the North basin so concentrated my efforts there once we had gained the path. The first bird I noticed was one of the many Black-necked Grebes that spend time post-breeding at Staines. A surprise, for this time of year, in the shape of a female Goldeneye was also noted. Initially though there was no sign of the Little Gulls.

There were only three other birders on the causeway, much further along the path, and they were all concentrating on something. Presumably, I hoped, they were focussed on the Little Gulls. Mrs Caley spotted the Gulls, three of them anyway, before I did, way out toward the northern edge of the basin. Little Gulls are instantly recognisable by their rapid bouncing flight close to the water and their habit of "dip-feeding" for insects. They look more Tern like because of that flight action, most similar to Black Terns, but tend to fly much closer to the surface than a Tern would. The Little Gulls became the 213rd species on our 2020 bird list.

Little Gull

I spotted the other Little Gull, flying by itself, so we had found all four of the birds. After ten minutes or so the party of three began to fly in our direction and passed reasonably close to the embankment allowing me to take some slightly better than the record shots already obtained. Little Gulls are dainty, much smaller than the Black-headed Gulls that were also present in numbers at the reservoir. They are very active birds, seemingly always on the move, as they search out water borne insects. In our half hour stay we didn't see any settle on the water or on any of the rafts. These juvenile birds have striking black, grey and white upper wing markings and a broad back terminal band to the tail. The bill is fine and black, the legs a dirty shade of pinkish-grey.

The Little Gulls were taking circuits of the reservoir, sometimes when passing us they'd come reasonably close but at other times they'd stay much further out. I gave them maybe five or six passes and then called it a day. Grabbing a bonus year tick on the way home from a twitch is proving to be a fulfilling exercise!

Walking back to the car took us through a throng of Pied Wagtails that were just about everywhere, on the embankments, on the fence and on the path ahead of us. I reckoned there were more than fifty altogether. Thank goodness for birds like the Wagtails, without them the massive swarm of flies that we had to endure would be even worse!

Pied Wagtail

Thursday 8 October 2020

The Big Bird With Two Names! Part 3, Crowden 30th August 2020

Every birdwatcher in the land will know about the Lammergeier that has spent a large part of the summer in the Peak District and a lot of non-birdwatchers will also know about that Bearded Vulture too!  To have one here in the UK is most definitely an awesome event. I'm not bothered by the purists who say that the Lammergeier has come from a reintroduction scheme so doesn't count as a truly wild bird, as far as I'm concerned it is plainly a wild bird, it's living free, and it deserves to be appreciated just as the White-tailed Eagles in Scotland and Little Owls everywhere are. Our two previous visits to see the Lammergeier were semi-successful. On the first try we only had very distant views of the Vulture so ultimately left disappointed, dissatisfied enough to try again a week later when we had better views, and I even managed a few recognisable photos, but still we didn't get a real close up, or prolonged, look at the bird. Since that second attempt the Lammergeier had relocated to another part of the Peak District, a quieter area with far less tourists, and had taken to roosting in a very accessible spot within easy walking distance from the carpark at Crowden. Some of the photos posted on the internet were every bit as good as those that were taken at the initial roost site, which had taken a gruelling hike to reach. We decided that we just had to go and see the the big bird with two names again!

We chose a day with a fine weather forecast owing to a high pressure system that held no rain, so there'd be no concerns at being out on the exposed moors. We got away from home early and trundled into Crowden by half past eight and were dismayed by the amount of cars already crammed into the small carpark. We managed to wedge our car in alongside the access road and togged up, noticing that most folk around were dog walkers and were mostly heading down towards the reservoir in the opposite direction to where we were going. The walk up into the valley to reach the Pennine Way, the main arterial path that traverses the country from one coast to the other up in these parts, while short, wasn't that easy being very muddy and containing a lot of high steps that people with short legs, that is us, found hard going. We were overtaken, we always are, by several more agile birders, but eventually reached the much more level Pennine Way which stretched out into the distance. To our left, the West, was a steep rocky escarpment, straight ahead lay a huge open valley with similar rocky outcrops and to the right, a fast flowing river at the bottom flanked by more rolling hills and a disused quarry and looking a bit reminiscent of the bird famous Findhorn Valley up in the Highlands of Scotland.

The Laddow Rocks and the Lammergeier valley

A chap was looking through his scope and said as we reached him that the Lammergeier could be seen sat atop a rock in the far distance. My heart sank a little at that since it meant that the bird had already left its roost for the day and I feared that our chance of a close view had once again been thwarted. He offered us the chance to look at the bird through his scope but I politely declined, you just can't be too careful these days, and erected my own scope instead. The Lammergeier was easy to find although the view was hindered somewhat by the already attendant heat haze. At least we'd seen it stood on terra firma for the first time. We carried on along the path so that we'd get closer to the bird and so that I could at least get a record shot. When we rounded a slight bend after passing through a small stand of conifer trees the whole valley opened up before us and I recognised some of the landmarks that I'd seen on various photos that had been tweeted out by previous Vulture watchers. There was also quite a gathering of fellow like-minded birders and photographers assembled along the track, at least forty had made it up to the viewing point before we had. We walked through the crowd and found a decent place in which to set up, nicely socially distanced for the others. The roost site was just up to our left and I was amazed at how close the rocky outcrop was to the path, no wonder there had been so many outstanding photos taken. The Lammergeier was still stood on the same rock and was now in range to get that record shot.

Mrs Caley motioned me to look towards a commotion above the rocky outcrop, known as Black Tor, where I could see maybe half a dozen Wood Pigeons flying past. My attention was attracted by a small falcon flying in front of them which turned out to be a Kestrel. Mrs Caley suddenly exclaimed, "Wow!" and "Did you see that?". "What, the Kestrel?", I replied. "No, not that, the Peregrine that just took one of the Pigeons out!" I had been sidetracked by the Kestrel and had missed a successful attack by a Peregrine! I frantically searched the air for the larger Falcon but it had disappeared over the brow of the ridge and all I could see was a few feathers drifting slowly down from on high. I sincerely wished that it wasn't going to be one of those days again when nothing quite goes to plan. A chap walked past and asked, "Did you see that Peregrine catch that Pigeon?" and continued, "Amazing, wasn't it?". Cue a rising black mood let alone a Black Tor.

I regained my inner calm with a reminder to myself that I was here for the Lammergeier and that I get Peregrines regularly at home so didn't need to see them here even if a photo of one catching a pigeon would have won me the Birdguides photo of the week, which it wouldn't have because I'd have blurred it anyway and I'm not one of the semi-professional crowd that do win those things, the only notable quality of my photos recently is the lack of notable photos. The Lammergeier had taken flight and was now soaring along the ridge of the Laddow Rocks in the distance. Even though we were probably the best part of a mile away, the huge size of the Lammergeier made it easy to watch and follow with the naked eye let alone through the optics, at least while it was above the skyline. If the bird dipped below the ridge then it was much more difficult to follow, the browns and creams of its plumage blending in surprisingly well with the background. It was actually easier to follow the Lammergeiers shadow than the bird itself. Whenever the Lammergeier was in the air, it was landing often but only for brief periods, it would attract the attention of other birds of prey. A Merlin, which looked incredibly small next the huge Vulture, buzzed it, as did a Common Buzzard and another Peregrine. I took photos but none really came out clearly enough to be of much use.

Common Buzzard & Lammergeier

We watched the Lammergeier for almost an hour as it continued to soar along the distant ridge. It continued to take many short breaks from flying when it would stand on a rock or at the top of the scarp. I was beginning to get a bit agitated, since the bird wasn't coming any closer, and began to consider whether we should get closer to the bird instead. There were people stood and sat on the ridge who seemingly had the Vulture flying right overhead, and even underneath them at times. I surveyed the ground ahead and followed the path which led up right onto the top of the ridge which the Lammergeier was favouring. I chatted to a local who knew the area well and his advice, that the path was extremely steep in places, hard going and the ridge was still over a mile away, put me off venturing any further than we already had. He had watched the Lammergeier several times over the past few weeks and every time he said that it always flew into the part of the valley that we were stood in so with patience we'd get our close views. Up to that point though I'll admit that I wasn't too optimistic that we would. 

The Lammergeier spent a longer period of time stood on the right extremity of the ridge, much further away and scope views were poor owing to that heat shimmer. It wasn't playing very fair at all and I feared that this third attempt would indeed turn out to be as frustrating as our first two. Even though this was the biggest bird we'd ever seen, so could be viewed at great distance, it was in a vast area of upland and was capable of moving very quickly and at great height if it wished so could easily disappear at any time. In the next instant it did just that! The Lammergeier launched off the rock and climbed higher and higher and then glided away along the ridge before disappearing over the skyline. My heart really sank this time, because when it did that at Cutthroat Bridge some five weeks before, that was the last we saw of it that day despite us hanging around for nearly six hours waiting for it to return. I said to Mrs Caley, more in forlorn hope than with any real optimism, that if we were lucky the Lammergeier had just gone for a short wander, would return soon and would fly along the other side of the valley which would enable us to get better views. For once my prophecy would come true!

Fifteen minutes had passed. It was a glorious morning so we had settled down on a grassy hummock, using a rock as a backrest while we gazed skywards towards the head of the valley where the Lammergeier had flown to. A Merlin bombed past in pursuit of a Meadow Pipit but my camera was laying idle on the ground next to me so I missed another opportunity to photograph a species that I've never got a good image of. The Merlin did make it onto the year list though, our 210th so far in 2020. And then it really did happen! Over the rounded hill to the East the Lammergeier appeared, still very distant, but it was flying towards us. I watched it for a minute or so as it cruised along the ridge getting closer and closer without ever flapping those massive wings. The Lammergeier is so superbly adapted for life in the air that it doesn't have to expend much effort at all to stay airborne and uses its huge wing area to glide and soar using the updrafts created by the steep sided cliffs and hills. It was now in range enough to start taking photos so I unholstered the camera.

There were no complaints now since the Lammergeier just kept coming and coming, cruising along the opposite side of the valley until it was at a point directly opposite our position. The only noises coming from the hitherto chatty bunch of birders were exclamations, like "Wow", "OMG" and "It's huge".

The photographers, myself included, now had a problem and one that couldn't be solved, not by me anyway. The Lammergeier had passed us and was now flying southwards, meaning that it was flying directly towards the sun and as a result would be silhouetted. I expect more competent photographers were able to overcome that disadvantage but when your firing off frames almost continually as the bird passes it's easy to forget. I had also noticed from viewing other peoples photos of the Lammergeier that the majority of images were quite dark which I think is because those large wings create their own shadow and, of course, most of the images are captured from below.

The Lammergeier then did us all an enormous favour by turning through ninety degrees and towards the rocky ridge on our side of the valley! The last time I felt such a surge of excitement when birding was when I found a cock Capercaillie roosting in a tree in the Scottish Pine Forest, seeing this majestic and beautiful Vulture so closely above our heads was purely an incredible event to witness. To cross the valley, still a wide span at this point, the Lammergeier made just two languid flaps of its wings but still managed to stay on level course. Our decision and keenness to come and see it was paying off handsomely. What a bird!

I fully expected the Lammergeier to continue straight on and disappear over the Black Tor ridge and could hardly have complained if it had but instead when it reached the rocky cliff face it turned through ninety degrees again and flew towards us. This was unbelievable. We had this superb bird with its eleven foot wing span coming directly towards us and it wasn't stopping. This was the encounter that we'd hoped for when deciding to visit for the third time. 

The Lammergeier just cruised along the top of the ridge, perhaps it was checking on its roosting spot, which apparently was situated behind a Rowan tree halfway up the cliff, or maybe it checked on a cached bone pile, making sure there was enough left in the larder for later. I hoped that the Vulture would suddenly swoop down and land on its favourite rock and rest for a while but instead it just continued on its way back towards the Laddow Rocks.

The whole flypast from when the Lammergeier first emerged on the far side of the valley to it heading out of camera range again lasted less than three minutes. In that short space of time the Vulture, with barely a wingbeat had travelled probably a mile and I had taken almost three hundred photos!

On reaching the head of the valley again the Lammergeier suddenly turned full circle and I was hopeful that it would return the same way back towards the roosting ledge on the cliff above our heads but instead it chose to disappear into a cleft where it must have settled down since I could see some walkers further up the Pennine Way pointing and training their own cameras towards it. Maybe there was a carcass there that the Lammergeier was feeding on. Ten minutes later the Vulture reappeared and soared up to the top of the ridge again where it attracted the attention of a couple of Ravens. Once more it settled on a rock, at least close enough this time to get a better shot of it stood motionless. Our scope views were incredible, it really is one big bird!

The Lammergeier was in the air again and this time it was using the updrafts to gain height. It was obviously going somewhere so when it started cruising over the valley heading south I realised that that would probably be our lot for the day, the bird was off. As it sailed over it was mobbed and escorted out of the valley by a couple of Peregrine Falcons, the ID of those birds was the subject of much debate after the Lammergeier had disappeared, and both Hobby and Merlin were mooted by others. Expert birding friends of mine though have confirmed them as Peregrines. The enormous size disparity in the two species is vast.

Peregrine & Lammergeier

Rather than hang around as we had done on the previous two occasions, this time, once the Vulture had flown out of the sight, we decided to head off. We had another bird that we wanted to see on the way home anyway. After the struggle that Mrs Caley had in climbing the muddy steps on the way up I decided that we'd follow the Pennine Way back to the road and walk to the carpark that way. It was surprisingly a lot further via that route but at least it was a level walk all the way. We crossed a bridge over the river and I waited for a while checking a weir for any Dippers that may be there. I did find a Grey Wagtail but no Dippers. Mrs Caley suddenly said, "Look" and pointed up. A very large bird was flying over us, it was the Lammergeier again. I thought fancifully that maybe it had come to wish us on our way. We watched it glide away towards the small hill that we'd just walked past, if we had been a few minutes slower in walking back it would have flown right over us at a low height and I would have had some amazing shots to take home. Alas my timing was all wrong and that opportunity had evaded me yet again, proving that we all tread very fine lines in life, some work to your advantage, others don't. We both waved the Lammergeier goodbye, wished it well, and set off on our journey south entirely satisfied with our third and final experience of the Big Bird With Two Names!

We broke the drive home by detouring to Sutton Park on the North-west side of Birmingham. I used to work in the Sutton Coldfield area a lot but until now had never known of the existence of the large natural area of parkland, woods, scrub and lakes within its boundaries. We had gone there to twitch a male Red-backed Shrike which had been present and showing really well for the past few days. We found the parking area easily enough but from there the directions to the Shrike were a little ambiguous. There was a large grassy field with lots of folk walking dogs or chucking sticks for them to chase after, as many noisy and energetic children, and even teenagers racing around on bikes. I scanned the area for birders but couldn't see any except, thankfully, for one chap, also with a dog in tow, who was walking back towards the cars. When he reached the carpark I asked him where the Shrike was and, surprisingly, got a look of complete bafflement in return. He had no idea there was a Red-backed Shrike present in the park and in fact had never even heard of one. Luckily however, he had seen a group of birdwatchers in the scrub beyond the grassy area who all "seemed to be watching something"!

A five minute walk in the direction that we were given brought us to the scrubby area and the birders. We had already had a long day so to save time I asked the first chap that I came to whether the Shrike was showing and where it was. Apparently it was somewhere in a Crab Apple tree that faced us but hadn't been seen for about half an hour. Cue Mrs Caley then to instantly clap eyes on the bird which was perched in true Shrike fashion on an exposed outer branch of the tree. The others hadn't seen it because from where they were all stood a small bush had obstructed their collective views.

Red-backed Shrike (male)

After a couple of extremely obnoxious types had encroached in our space in complete disregard to social distancing which led to some curt exchanges between me and them, we found another spot in which to view the Shrike which hadn't moved one inch. Shrikes in general are good birds to watch since they spend a lot of time stood motionless on a prominent perch from where they survey the ground below for prey. When they spot an insect, a lizard or even a small mammal they drop from the perch, capture the prey and then return to the same or another similar lookout to eat their prize, or sometimes to cache it for later.

The Red-backed Shrike flew out of the Crab Apple tree into a patch of thorny bushes before emerging right in front of where I stood, now on my own. At first the bird was obscured by the tangle of branches but shortly after crept up into a clear position. As I took a few photos I could hear one of the obnoxious blokes approaching behind me. I was then asked by him, "to move out of the way because I can't see the whole bird". Yeah right, no chance mate. "I was here first" I retorted. In any event the Shrike flew into another tree soon after. I left the irksome Togger muttering away and returned to Mrs Caley. I don't think I've experienced such a pair of prats like those two unpleasant men anywhere when twitching before. 

When the Shrike once again reappeared at the top of another tree, I took a couple more shots and then decided it was time for us to leave. We had been in the company of the Red-backed Shrike for only twenty minutes but that was twenty minutes too long to be in the company of those two chaps. Some folk manage to ruin the experience for the rest of us. Have they no consideration or conscience, either for their peers or the birds that they continually harass? Blatantly they don't. Hopefully we'll never have the misfortune to bump into them again.